(WTI) “The fans wanted Zlatan, I gave them the Zlatan.”
The words come from the new MLS superstar himself to describe one of the most epic debuts not only in North American soccer, but also in the history of the sport.
On Sunday, Zlatan Ibrahimovic played his first game with his new club, L.A. Galaxy, and in just 20 minutes the Swedish ace managed to energize the league, his new team and the city of Los Angeles.
The match launched the new rivalry between the Galaxy and the Los Angeles Football Club. Dubbed as “el Trafico” for the traffic jams one finds on the L. A. highways, both teams played for the first time ever in the new “City of Angels” derby.
Ibrahimovic started the game on the bench. After all, he had landed in Los Angeles only 72 hours prior, had hardly trained with the Galaxy and most importantly, his physical form is far from ideal after lingering problems with the same right knee that had to be reconstructed last year due to an ACL tear that nearly finished his career.
With Zlatan on the sidelines, the Galaxy were non-existent as LAFC took a commanding 3-0 lead to the break. It appeared that the visiting team, in its first year in the league, was headed to what would have been a significant victory against its new rivals.
But in the second half, magic – and Zlatan- happened in Los Angeles.
It was the 70th minute when Ibrahimovic came on and the game instantly changed. The Galaxy had just scored their first goal of the match in the 61st minute. Shortly after entering the match, Chris Pontius reduced the deficit even more making it 3-2. Perhaps the comeback was possible.
Then, it was Ibrahimovic’s time to dictate the match.
He had only touched the ball twice before receiving it 40 yards from the visiting net. He saw LAFC goalkeeper David Bingham away from his goal line and the Swede looped a very powerful half-volley shot over the goalie’s head that ended up in the back of the net. One of the most difficult and beautiful shots you will ever see. Simply top-class.
That, of course, wasn’t enough for the man who announced his arrival in MLS by telling the press that “the lion is hungry”.
So with the score at 3-3, Ibrahimovic was not done. He wanted to have one last word. Ashley Cole sent in a cross to the striker and Ibrahimovic headed the ball for the winning goal. It was the 91st minute. Game over.
“When you’re losing 3-0, the adrenaline is pumping even more, because you want to be able to do something, help the team, help especially when you’re in a difficult situation. And I just wanted to come in”, said “the Zlatan”.
“From that third goal we scored and then for the fourth was even more crazy because you’re winning the game, but after that I was like, ‘Just stop the game now. It’s enough. I don’t want to feel any more adrenaline…'” he added. “I heard back there, from another media guy, ‘You wake up now the football in the U.S.’ I say hopefully, but not in this way, because we want to have control over the game, and we hope that every game is not like that, because it’s not easy.”
With his 20 minutes of glory, Ibrahimovic managed among other things to make LAFC just the second MLS team to lose after leading 3-0. Perhaps the only consolation for the expansion team is to think that the striker has decided to inflict more pain upon those who cross his path for the two-year duration of his MLS contract.
One thing does seem certain at this point: The Zlatan only gives what the fans want.
Homepage photo: LA Galaxy
By INSIDER Javier Monne
Your best source of news about the global football business is World Football INSIDER